Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

August 3: The Badlands

Ways To Subscribe

The Badlands in Western North Dakota is a favorite place for many people. Whether to camp or just look out over the bluffs from the visitor’s center, people enjoy the picturesque landscape.

One might wonder how such a beautiful place came to be known as the Badlands. That name came about before the marked hiking trails, onsite bathrooms, and water pumps. For white settlers and soldiers going west, the landscape was dry and difficult for travel. Looking back on records from General Alfred Sully’s expeditions, we can hear firsthand why they hated this land.

Sully led expeditions in the summers of 1863 to 1865 to attack the Sioux tribes. In the late summer of 1864, Sully’s group was running dangerously low on rations and trying to meet three supply steamboats.

On this date, they began traveling west and were at first happy to find plentiful water and grass. However, two days into the expedition they reached the dreaded Badlands, a place Sully called, “Hell with the fires burned out.” They made camp on high ground near present-day Medora. It was a harsh landscape for a large squadron of soldiers, animals, and supplies. A soldier named Marshall wrote a letter to the Pioneer Press saying, “It was a perfect labyrinth to which there seemed no outlet and where no eye could trace out a path for a man to walk much less for the passage of loaded wagons.”

They ultimately had to rely on a young Blackfoot named Brackett. But most Native Americans weren’t friendly to the soldiers. At one point, while Sully’s column crossed the Little Missouri on August 7, Dakota gathered on high ground, shouting taunts.

Unlike the soldiers, the Sioux knew the terrain and could use it to their advantage. No wonder the soldiers called it the Badlands.

Dakota Datebook by Lucid Thomas


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Related Content